How much of what we say doesn’t need to be said?
I recently returned from a 10-day European trip with my mother through Iceland, Dublin, and the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. This was the fourth year we’ve done some variation of this pilgrimage to the Isle of Anglesey, from where my mom’s great-grandfather emigrated to the US back in 1860. As we checked into our favorite Welsh farmhouse hotel, my mind involuntarily flashed to our voyage two years prior, shortly after my husband unexpectedly left me.
Flash forward to the present: same hotel, same room, #5, but not the same Lisa, now divorced, over him, and grateful for my new life. Yet, the minute I walked through that hotel door, my entire being was transported back to that raw period full of uncertainty and grief, following his sudden departure. I was reminded that it was there, in room #5, where I truly missed my now ex-husband for the very first time.
I didn’t wish he was traveling with us or that I was back home with him. I didn’t long for my old life. Instead, what I lamented was that I could no longer shut myself up in my room, call him, and complain about my mother.
I know my mom will read this (she’s one of my biggest fans), but I also know she’ll not take this personally. At that point, two years ago, it was the first time mother and daughter had traveled as a pair in many years, and we’d been on the road for more than a week. (I’m guessing she was a bit tired of me as well.)
I was worn out and bitter. Exhausted from being tour guide and valet and upset that I was on a European vacation with my mother and not my husband, I wanted to vent. There’s only one person you can vent to about your mom, and that’s your husband. I no longer had one.
I often reflect on that typical cold and rainy Welsh September day. The lack of a trusted partner to whine to helped me realize that much of what we formulate in our heads doesn’t need to come out of our mouths. Did I really need to spout off about my mom? I dare say that most of what we think can and should die right where it originates, in our brain.
Complaining doesn’t do the trick. In fact complaining does nothing; it’s merely an attempt to justify our feelings by expressing them to another. What does help is learning to accept and process our emotions, internally and without judgment.
The problem is we don’t like to be with discomfort. I don’t mean true pain – for the most part mom and I were having a lovely time. What I mean are the minor harmless annoyances of life that can produce mindless negative chatter, chatter that takes up too much real estate in our minds. It can feel like the searing words will burn our tongues if we don’t let them out when the truth is the burning occurs when we do.
For me, two years ago in Wales, the person who was normally the receptacle of my bitching was gone and there was no one to dump on. Out of necessity, I learned a tremendous lesson. I learned to keep my mouth shut more often. I realized that I could indeed filter what I say. It dawned on me that I didn’t have to verbalize every thought that popped into my head. A wise teacher put it this way: “Is it necessary, true and kind? If not, keep your trap shut.”
As with most issues concerning your mother (or your daughter) and a 10-day trip, it’s easier said than done. For me, its all part of my meditation practice. Learning to become aware of one’s thoughts, sift through them, and patiently allow the unnecessary, untrue or unkind ones to wither away is a valuable skill; a skill that gets honed by sitting in silence.
There is tremendous power in being able to consciously choose what comes out of our mouths. Not only can we derive a great sense of satisfaction knowing there are thoughts we keep only for ourselves (like our own little secrets), making a deliberate choice about what we vocalize also helps us play nice with others. When we think before we speak we’re less likely to be reactionary or negative, and we damage fewer relationships. Case in point, I’m happy to report that this year’s trip was smooth sailing.
Simply put, many things are better left unsaid. It took splitting from my husband, a trip to Europe with my mother, and a dedicated mindfulness practice to teach me this powerful lesson, so I’m grateful for them all.
While I don’t wish a painful divorce on anyone, I do hope to take more trips with my mom. And I plan to keep up my meditation practice, for as the former husband noted before he moved on, it makes for a kinder and gentler Lisa.